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Intimacy and Jealousy Regulate Relationships

Uploaded 10/30/2018, approx. 6 minute read

By popular demand, my name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

And don't you make me repeat this.


Today we are going to discuss regulatory loops.

Every relationship has mechanisms for feedback. The partners in the relationship use these mechanisms to communicate with each other and to modify the other partner's behavior to regulate the relationship.

There are two ways to do that, via intimacy or via romantic jealousy. Mature partners achieve a workable balance between togetherness and personal autonomy. It is not easy.

Taken to the extreme, personal autonomy becomes a freedom and then anarchy. Taken to the extreme, togetherness becomes clinging, suffocating and stifling.

Finding the golden mean between these two is a task of herculean proportions. It requires awareness of subtleties and nuances. It requires fine tuning on a minute by minute basis, interaction by interaction, speech act by speech act. It's a full-time job.

But these mature healthy partners engender intimacy via communication and also via actions. They signal to each other. Intimacy feels so good, so warm, involves acceptance and creates such a safe and secure environment in which the partners can be vulnerable, naked, so to speak. So it feels so good.

It feels like going back to childhood that no one in his right mind wants to exit such a bond, an intimate, a truly intimate bond.

So both abandonment or separation anxiety and romantic jealousy are absent in healthy relationships because intimacy guarantees that there's no need for them.

Object permanence or object constancy is accomplished and established in healthy and mature relationships. The partners trust each other to always be there. Separation is not a threat. And abandonment is not on the cards because who would abandon, again, a truly intimate functional relationship? Why would you do that?

So such a relationship is devoid of anxiety and devoid of jealousy.

But what to do? What happens when one of the partners is a codependent or a borderline and the other one is a narcissist or a psychopath or a histrionic? These are very common combinations, actually.

And what happens when both of the partners suffer from mood disorders such as, for example, bipolar disorder?

Well, these kind of partners cannot achieveand if they do achieve, cannot maintain even minimal intimacy.

Instead, what they do, they mesh, intermesh, get entangled, fuse, merge. They become a single organism with two heads.

Normally, such fusion fosters intolerable abandonment or separation anxiety. It's very simple. If you're part of one organism, any separation is the equivalent of amputation. It's intolerably painful. It could even be life threatening with profuse, emotional bleeding taking place.

So all separation, even minimal, is perceived as an existential threat.

The only way to regulate this kind of profound anxiety is to make sure that the partner doesn't jump ship, doesn't abandon you.

But how do you achieve that if you cannot generate intimacy? What incentive or inducement does the partner have to stay in their relationship?

If he's a narcissist, you can give him narcissistic supply. But even that has a limit. At some point, he may devalue you, or he may find a much better source of supply.

So it's not a guarantee as far as the longevity of a relationship.


So how do you kind of make sure that your spouse or intimate partner remains heavily involved, emotionally invested, infectious, and will never leave you?

This is done by provoking the partner's romantic jealousy.

Jealousy, of course, is a reaction to anticipated loss. So the partner that provokes jealousy, engages in indiscreet extramarital affairs, adultery, and cheating. She displays flagrant promiscuity. She is ostentatiously flirtatious or seductive with strangers. Her behaviors are provocative, as is her dress, her attire, or her speech. And she all the time destabilizes the relationship by hinting at the existence of third parties by generating a doom and gloom atmosphere of an impending breakup. And she does that in order to provoke the partner into sitting up and paying attention. She wants the partner to value her. She wants the partner to realize that she's desirable, that she's irresistible to other men, or that he's irresistible and desirable to other women.

Such a partner introduces insecurity and instability as means to create security and stability.

It's very paradoxical. The instigator wants her counterpart, actually, to set boundaries.

She wants, or he wants, his or her spouse to put his foot down, to prove that he cares, to say up to here, stop it. I don't accept your behavior anymore.

She wants the partner to wake up, to become alive, to become invested in the relationship, to pay attention, as I said. Of course, such behaviors, provoking romantic jealousy, triangulation, such behavior precipitate exactly what they had been meant to prevent. They have the exact opposite effect to the one intended.

Many partners anticipating loss and with pain aversion, many. These combine to drive the injured party away, actually guarantee eventual separation and abandonment.

If you play this game of romantic jealousy too often, if you triangulate too often, if you introduce the parties into the relationship too often, by cheating, for example, if you are flagrantly promiscuous, ostentatiously flirtatious, or seductive in public, if you misbehave, if you dress provocatively, if you upload photos of yourself half naked or online, and if you constantly hint that you're about, just about, a second before breaking up and walking away. At some point, you're taking the risk that your partner may say, well, good riddance. I can't take this anymore.

So, exactly like with intimacy, it's an act of fine tuning. You have to find the balance between provoking enough insecurity and not too much of it.

Again, exactly like intimacy. You have to find the balance between creating enough intimacy and not too much of it.

Exaggerated regulatory behaviors, intimacy creating or jealousy creating, tend to kill the relationship, to terminate it, because no one in his right mind wants to live in an exaggerated, caricaturistic environment.

People seek the middle ground. People want to feel sufficiently themselves and sufficiently merged with the other. They want to create a third entity within which both partners are separate but united.

Not easy.

And that's why well over 50% of marriages end in divorces and well over 80% of relationships end in separation.

Finding this balance, this middle ground, this golden mean, eludes most of us and it eludes most of us because of our inherent narcissism, including healthy narcissism. We don't know exactly how to keep our partner happy and ourselves at the same time. We keep failing.

The situation is so bad that many people give up all together and that's the service statement about the modern condition that anyone could make.

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